On Love (1822) by Stendahl

Poised between artifice and authentic emotionalism, Stendahl’s On Love explores the topic of love, combining the rational and the romantic.  The stylistic balance fits the personality of Stendahl, the nom de plume of Henri-Marie Beyle.  The short work combines analytical passages and excerpts from the dairy of Salviati, another guise Stendahl uses to investigate the concept of love.

The accretion of different personae, pseudonyms of pseudonyms, creates a fascinating literary product.  The book’s genesis can be traced back to a rebuff Stendahl received from Matilde Dembowski, “the aristocratic young wife of a Polish officer” Sophie Lewis says in the Introduction of the Hesperus Edition.

Emotionally devastated, Stendahl wrote an essay emblematic of the Post-Napoleonic landscape.  An influential concept Stendahl postulated was that of “crystallization.”  In Salzburg, Austria, young couples would place a branch in the local salt mine.  After several days, crystals would cover the branch.  Stendahl relates this to love, the crystallization symbolizing how the lover will attribute characteristics of perfection to his beloved.  The crystallization turns the beloved into an object of perfection, despite evidence to the contrary.

Building upon this revolutionary concept, Stendahl continues to study the forms of love, including vain love, passionate love, and mannered love.  Sometimes he analyzes the concept with numerical points, analytic and concise.  Other times he will give an excerpt from Salviati’s diary or quote an excerpt from Dante, Sir Walter Scott, or Shakespeare.  The effect is an essay that has a modern feeling.  The concept of crystallization would go on to influence modern psychology.

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